Fortunately, diversity management has been in vogue in recent years. It is of growing importance in the people management of all kinds of organisation, where it serves to reinforce key elements such as work engagement, performance, employer branding.
On an external level, ESG (environmental, social and governance) investment criteria offer clear support for diversity, and these are embraced in the financial commitments to listed companies made by large investors.
Furthermore, diversity is viewed in an all encompassing manner today: it includes generational, gender, cultural, racial, functional (disability), LGBT and religious considerations, as well as experiences and skills… A worthy focus, which highlights the complexity involved in approaching this issue effectively.
Certain barriers and glass ceilings remain in place, alongside negative inertia
These are very positive signs that we are moving in the right direction, although I have my doubts as to whether, as a society, our foundations and mental beliefs are solid enough to significantly improve diversity. This is a people management challenge that I regard as critical to our future. Several examples in different areas of diversity illustrate how certain barriers and glass ceilings remain in place, alongside negative inertia in policies and ways of thinking.
The main obstacle that many women face is still how to balance their career with their personal and family life, and today this continues to limit the promotion of women with management potential. Despite the undeniable progress, steps must continue to be taken to reinforce joint responsibility and a better balance between the roles of men and women in the home and with respect to family care.
Other challenges lie in reviewing the generalisations and myths about female talent (e.g. “women do not tend to have as much ambition as men”), making successful cases more widely known, and personalising talent management more, in order to take stock of different needs and situations.
Functional diversity (people with different abilities)
In spite of laws that foster the inclusion of people with different abilities and the good intentions of many organisations, the reality is that change is resisted. Observation suggests that this particular employment market is not transparent enough, it cannot shake off clichés and it is not very efficient with regard to a matter that is obviously delicate.
Today, it is still too difficult for people with a disability to find work. For various reasons, many of them continue to be afraid of drawing attention to their disability, despite the fact that in many cases this would improve their access to the market and provide them with all kinds of assistance.
On the other hand, it is too complicated for companies to recruit these profiles, despite our efforts and commitment to their valuable talent. Pioneering companies like Repsol aside, more and more businesses make a point of giving this group of people opportunities, and in our eyes this also helps us to humanise and improve our organisational culture. However, we do not find the profiles we want for these vacancies, thwarting opportunities and frustrating the hopes of people who are making a special effort to be employable.
This highlights the need to reinvent practices and messages that will reach this group, their families and sources of employment. Despite the efforts made and certain instances of success, supply and demand for positions to accommodate this talent are not well balanced, nor can I see different bases for significant improvements over the next few years.
Good multigenerational management is considered essential in organisations, in order to take maximum advantage of the wealth of experiences and mentalities available. Nevertheless, young people continue to face obstacles in accessing employment, while those over the age of 55 find it difficult to end their working life in reasonable conditions and without losing some of their pension.
Young people have to confront an environment of job insecurity and unemployment, which stands at more than 35% in Spain. Furthermore, the current legal limits regarding the duration of grant programmes are not helpful when these youngsters seek to gain a first foothold in the employment market.
Senior workers do not have it any easier: nearly 60% of those without work in the 55 to 64 age group are long-term unemployed, and we do not appear to be improving this situation with specific solutions for senior talent.
These two sets of statistics mean that Spain has the worst record in the European Union, and therefore in both cases a far-reaching review of public employment policies and internal Human Resources management is required.
We must build on the successes achieved and, at the same time, be more ambitious
When approaching diversity management, I believe we must build on the successes achieved, take advantage of the growing awareness raised and, at the same time, be more ambitious. We must explore better practices, look hard at what is not working, listen to people’s needs, and think big, developing synergies. We all want to move forward, but as Einstein wisely said: “we will not succeed in making significant improvements in the future, if we continue doing the same things today.”
This article has also been published in Do Better by ESADE, 10 November 2021